Pristine Panhala

Maharashtra is replete with beautiful hill stations. However, beauty also attracts crowds! Most tourists end up in hill stations during peak of summer, to beat the heat. During the summer of 2009, I decided to go to a lesser-known hill station, Panhala. I did my customary research on the place before my visit. It is quite interesting on how one forms perspective and mental vision of a place based on articles and how the reality can be strikingly different. Though Panhala is a favourite hideout of many Mumbaites and Puneites, not much information is available on it.

Panhala is around 20 Kms from Kolhapur. It took me approximately 5 hours to reach Panahala from Pune after a brief stopover at Kolhapur. The Pune-Bangalore highway is beautiful and the road from Kolhapur to Panhala is pristine. It is a typical rural setup with fields on either side. One has to be careful while driving on this road as you would suddenly come across bullock carts or hay laden trucks or speeding bikes.

On the way to Panhala

On the way to Panhala


As you enter Panhala, you see the huge statue of Baji Prabhu Deshpande. The legend is that he died battling thousands of enemy soldiers with few of his warriors so that Shivaji Maharaj could reach Vishalgad safely.

Baji Prabhu Deshpande

Baji Prabhu Deshpande

Panhala is historically an important place. It served as the seat of Maratha Empire where Chatrapathi Shivaji spent considerable days. It continued changing hands from the Marathas to Mughals until British took control of it. The Panhala Fort, though much of it is in ruins, is still an imposing structure. The high ramparts are impregnable.

Ramparts of the Panhala Fort

Ramparts of the Panhala Fort

It is amazing how weather changes over an elevation of 2500 feet. Compared to Kolhapur’s heat, the weather at Panhala was refreshingly cool. We checked in to the first available hotel – Meghdoot – about 4-5 minutes from the Baji Prabhu statue. The hotel has well-manicured lawns but lacks modern facilities inside. By the time, we checked in the hotel it was 2 PM and we were famished and ordered our food immediately. The food was delicious but it took them unusually long time to prepare it. As the evening progressed, it became chilly and we had to grab blankets. It seemed a bit odd considering the fact that it was peak of summer.

Hotel Meghdoot

Hotel Meghdoot

Serenity

Serenity

I took an early morning walk… the place is so quiet and peaceful. You feel that something is missing… and then it hits you …unlike other hill stations, it does not have a market place. You hardly come across the typical tourist crowd…no horses…or the pushy guide with his ‘creative’ history of the land…little kids enticing you to buy their wares. No, it is a peaceful place to just chill out and relax. You cannot really go out after the sunset, as there are still no streetlights. I did observe some new constructions coming up and there were activities around putting up streetlights. If you were the type who would like to spend some quality time with your family … I would recommend this place.
There are few interesting places to see at Panhala. “Sajja Kothi”, a multi storey structure …is a reminiscent of the past…a place people were punished. The view from this place is panoramic. In fact, you can get a splendid view from almost anywhere in Panhala for hundreds of kilometres around. That probably explains the reason for building the fort here…as a vantage point to look out and ward of enemies.

Picturesque View

Picturesque View

The “Teen Darwaza”, or the “Three Gates” on the western side of the fort are massive stone structures. They look indestructible. British army eventually did breach it with the help of traitors inside. It is an absorbing story. Our guide did show us the spots where British cannon balls had damaged the structure but we had no way of verifying its authenticity.

One of the Teen Darwaza

One of the Teen Darwaza

According to our guide, King Raja Bhoj built the fort in the 12th century. The fort also holds three massive granaries – Ganga,Yamuna and Saraswati. Looking at the size of the granaries one can imagine the amount of grains it can hold. With that kind of storage, at times of siege, the army could have sustained itself for years. There is also an old legend associated with the granaries that led to the phrase “Kahan Raja Bhoj aur Kahan Gangu Teli”
The beauty of Western India is its sunset. What better place than to be on the front row …on a lazy evening in May and watch the sun disappear over the horizon creating mesmerizing hue across the landscape?

Western ramparts of the fort

Western ramparts of the fort

Sunset

Sunset

After spending two days at Panhala, we drove down to Kolhapur. We visited Mahalakshmi temple under scorching conditions. The long winding queue was welcome for once as we tried to take refuge on the shadow of people in front of us to protect our bare burning feet! After the ‘darshan’ we went to the New Palace. The descendants of Chatrapati Shahu Maharaj, the erstwhile ruler of Kolhapur still resides in this palace. The lower portion of the palace has been turned in to a museum. The Museum has a wide array of furniture, weapons and clothing used by the ruler and in a way brings out the extravaganza enjoyed by the royalties. The display of hunting trophies and the exotic (read extinct) stuffed animals brings about a mixed feeling. We also stopped by the Rankala Lake – the Shalini Palace (which is a star hotel now) on the backdrop is majestic. The area surrounding the lake could be much better though.

New Palace

New Palace

Rankala Lake

Rankala Lake

Around 17 km from Kolhapur is Kaneri Math. To reach there one has to travel roughly 12 Kms on the Bangalore Highway (NH4) and take right from Gokul Shirgaon Junction. From here, we drove for 4-5 km on a semi-developed road leading to Kaneri village. There is ample space for parking. The Math houses a Shiva temple and a large Shiva statue. The attraction here is the Siddhagiri Gramjivan Wax Museum. It depicts a self-sufficient village and portrays different scenes of a typical village. The statues are real life like – our own Madame Tussauds! The farming scene set up in real field is truly remarkable. It is worth a visit.

Shiva Temple

Shiva Temple

Shiva Statue

Shiva Statue

Though my visit to these places are a bit dated, I thought it worthwhile to share it as they are not well-known.

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    • Sundar

      Hi Jatdevta,

      Thank you very much for your kind comments.

  • Pravesh

    Excellent narration.

    It is always fun to read about unexplored places.

    Keep it up.

    Regards,

  • Sundar

    Thanks Pravesh.

    To quote Robert Frost … Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
    I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference !!!

  • Yes Sundar,

    Even though it is a bit dated you should always share to inspire people like us. I visited Panhala long back , say before 12-15 years on a cousins marriage. I still remember the place and I loved it. Thanks for refreshing my memory………………………….

  • maheh semwal

    Thanks for sharing the unexplored place “Panhala”. All the picture are beautiful.

    Looking forward to see some more travel stories from you.

  • Pradeep Nair

    Can you advise Good Hotel in Panhala.

    If you have Hotel Meghdoot Tel. Number can you give it to me.

    I intend to visit on 27 October 2011.

    Thanks and regards,
    Pradeep
    9167005905

  • hemant

    I too would love to know the number of Meghdoot hotel. The landline numbers are both down and not working. Perhaps the hotel does not want to do business. Kolhapur hotel owner association who I talked to also said the owner was not much inclined in addting the number on there website whcih gives details of many other hotels.
    Panhala hotel industry except hill top is still living in 18th century. There is no online booking. Phone are not picked up etc.

  • hemant

    I realised after the first comment here, that almost all the phone numbers in Panhala are not working for last 2 days (october 25-26-27 2012) except a few like Kavade’s tourist inn where calling in a way is useless as the menfolk is not at home but I could could get a mobile number from the lady folk who received the phone, at least. Few of the hotels who have alternative mobile numbers or websites are accessible. The costs of some of the hotels I spoke to, as I got there mobile number, are going through the roof as India is getting richer by the day with so many people doing scams in thousands of crores! they need to spend the money somewhere I suppose. Some hotels claimed they have rooms that are equal to the so called star hotels of Panhala who charge 3000 rupees upwards for a night stay, where as these ramshackle looking 3 stars charge only 1500-1700. Many places claim to have a third bed that looks like side berth of Garib rath train. They have Cable TV that wont work and hot running water that will be made available if MSEB gives a boon of electricity in the morning. I do not know when our Govt and hotel industry will cater to tourist instead of themselves. MTDC RIP. with more and more privatization.

  • hemant

    Meghdoot has become a shady place. I visited the place on 12 November 2012. A half clad shady character approach me at the counter and told me that earlier manager did some SCAM by renting the rooms through his private phone number without any entries in the hotel register etc and the owner of the hotel, after discovering the scam thrashed him badly. The new receptionist cum cook cum goon was looking so dirty as if he had rolled in some wallow along pigs. He started telling me for no reason, how he is good at cooking Chicken 65. Then came the expected – if he can put a roadside stall in Pune to selling Chinese chicken dishes etc. He has very close contacts with top politicians in Kolhapur too and if one need to settle scores with enemy he can arrange things, was the additional info provided at the reception.
    Both the landline phone receivers were off the hook at the counter! A total no -unless someone finds more about the present functioning of this hotel.

    • Amit Limaye

      Hi, Which place would then you recomment to stay at Panhala with family & kid.